by Lianne Ong on

If you live in Pasir Ris, you may have seen this formidable woman prowling around your neighbourhood at night.

Her “weapon” of choice is a smile, a mobile phone and a pamphlet.

And similar to the boys in blue, her uniform is a cool blue vest over a white polo shirt.

Selena Goh, 52, has been serving with the Citizens on Patrol (COP) team in Pasir Ris since 2014 and has been a team leader for the last three years. She oversees 52 volunteers, about a quarter of the total number of COP volunteers in the Pasir Ris district.

Try keeping up with this 52 year old volunteer in Singapore
Goh with a FN303 riot shotgun at a Home Team Festival last year. Image source: Selena Goh

As a seasoned COP volunteer, she trains new members of her team to be familiar with the neighbourhood and its terrain, carry out vertical patrols at the blocks of flats and learn how to engage with the residents.

Working closely with the Pasir Ris Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC), Goh and her fellow volunteers keep in touch with the latest goings-on via WhatsApp chat groups. She also helps to roster out the patrol teams and routes.

“For example, if there are cases of ‘ah longs’ (unlicensed money lenders), then more patrols will be conducted near the site. The team will request for residents to report any sightings of suspicious characters,” Goh tells The Pride.

She adds: “And if there have been reports of outrage of modesty cases, then it’s more urgent. We’ll advise residents to be more vigilant and proactive, suggesting that they escort their female family members home from the bus stop or MRT station.”

Her journey as a COP volunteer began at an SPF volunteer recruitment roadshow in 2014 when she picked up an application form for the scheme. It was the start of an exciting and fulfilling journey in serving her community, says Goh, who still remembers her first patrol in December that year after finishing her training!

Since then, she has picked up multiple appreciation awards for her work with COP, but Goh says that it isn’t the main thing that motivates her.

“It’s meaningful and fulfilling to be able to engage residents, gaining their trust. Now they recognise our uniform and will come up and thank us for our help in maintaining peace and security in the estate.”

Daughter, mother, wife

Despite being the primary caregiver to her parents and what she jokingly terms the “in-house chef and housekeeper” for her family, Goh, a freelance architect, says her husband and children were supportive of her desire to be a COP volunteer because they thought she would be able to manage her time.

“They were less concerned about my safety than my time management!” Goh laughs.

COP Singapore volunteer at an event
During a Home Team workplan exhibition last year

The COP scheme was started in 1999 to enable patrols by the community to alert the police to suspicious activities and to assist in crime prevention measures. Each volunteer is required to serve a minimum of two hours, and usually the teams patrol their neighbourhood on an average of eight to 10 times a month, disseminating crime prevention advisories and reporting suspicious persons or crimes-in-progress.

But patrolling her neighbourhood wasn’t the only thing Goh was interested in.

Fully trained in first aid

Having whetted her appetite in volunteering, in 2016, she decided to don the yellow and red uniform of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Goh’s interest in first-aid came from caring for her grandmother for more than ten years. It started as early as 1987, when Goh was still a student, she tells The Pride.

She never gave up this caregiving role even after marriage and kids came along. Even now, Goh’s 19-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter call their home a “recovery centre” because of the caregiving role their family plays whenever any of the elderly folk in the family falls ill.

“Sometimes they stay with us, and we nurse them back to health, for as long as a year even,” Goh tells The Pride.

CERT volunteer during Singapore's 54th birthday
With the CERT volunteers at the National Day Parade in 2019

CERT volunteers are specially trained to respond to an emergency by rendering basic first aid, helping in evacuation and crowd control. They assist paramedics before as well as after emergency personnel arrive on the scene.

Volunteers learn skills like basic first-aid, administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and handling automated external defibrillators (AEDs). They are also taught on how to mediate and manage behaviours during a crisis.

As a member of CERT, Goh has helped in events like National Day Parade, Chingay, and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

She recalls: “National Day Parade is a test of stamina. During last year’s NDP, after the parade was over, and the seating galleries were cleared, I approached one of the facilitators, a girl, who looked like she was in pain.”

At first, Goh thought the girl was suffering from gastroenteritis, but it turned out to be a matter of a more personal nature.

“We had to exercise sensitivity as we liaised with the young SAF male medics, to figure what was wrong and rendered assistance to her.”

At one of the Formula One night races, Goh was asked to assist with a teenager so drunk that her pulse could not be detected. She and the other support crew managed to find the girl’s parents who were elsewhere when it happened.

Goh shares that it was the first time she had seen anyone so young that drunk before.

“I was alone on my knees with the patient till her parents and ambulance crew arrived.  It was my longest one hour ever. It doesn’t quite happen like how the movies portray it!” she says.

Today, Goh has the myResponder app on her phone, ready to respond to any nearby emergencies.

If activated, she grabs her first-aid kit, dons her CERT vest, and dashes to the location of the emergency. Being able to be on site to render first aid during those first few minutes before the paramedics arrive is critical.

Given that her roles require “boldness and promptness – no dilly-dallying!”, she laughs at the suggestion that it has made her an impatient person.

“I was when I was younger, but I’ve learnt to manage my expectations! My friends have started joking that I’m Selena Goh, always on the Goh, Goh, Goh!”

Because COP and CERT training complement one another, this volunteer often finds herself playing both roles at Singapore events.

Because COP and CERT training complement one another, Goh often finds herself playing both roles at events.

It is ironic that she is so involved in such uniformed volunteer work now, Goh says. Her parents did not allow her to join a uniformed group like the National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) when she was in secondary school.

“I guess you could say I’m finally fulfilling that desire!” Goh laughs, adding that her parents are now proud that she is contributing so much back to society.

CERT volunteer distributing sanitisers and masks in Singapore during Covid-19
Goh still goes out with CERT volunteers to distribute sanitisers and masks during Covid

On average, Goh used to spend up to 10 hours a week doing volunteer work, but Covid-19 has changed that. With safe distancing measures in place, the COP teams have stopped patrolling. “But we still remain vigilant and keep in touch with each other through the chat group,” says Goh. She still does CERT work however, distributing masks and hand sanitizers, and working as safe-distancing ambassadors.

Crafter too

And if that’s not enough, Goh also serves in the Friends of the Heartland Network, an initiative by the Housing Development Board (HDB) to promote the spirit of neighbourliness, by leading seniors in community craft activities.

She has even inspired her family to join her. Before Covid-19 stopped such outreach work, her husband and children showed their support by helping set up craft booths at roadshows or visiting the elderly with her.

But Covid or not, Goh isn’t slowing down on her volunteer work.

She says with a smile: “I will keep serving for as long as I can. It’s very natural for me to give of my time to help others. It’s my passion.

“I’ve seen death, so I treasure life. I live as if every day is my last day. This spurs me on to do more things, for more people.”

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